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Wulf Moon's SUPER SECRETS Workshop & Challenge!

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AjZach
(@ajzach)
Bronze Member
Posts: 94

And now, ASSIGNMENT for the SUPER SECRET: SET. YOUR. STAGE. Phase 3 Exercise:

Same as you did in the Phase 2 exercise. This time, analyze the first three paragraphs in your favorite non WotF short story. If you can't find one that exemplifies what we're looking for in openings, try your favorite novels, but find for the group the very best that opens with a character, in a setting, with a Heart's Desire, and hopefully a problem follows shortly after. Answer:

1. How did the author make a powerful vision of their world open up in my mind with a minimum of details?

2. How did they introduce an empathetic character that was unique and made me immediately connect with them?

3. What age, gender, and characteristics were given of the protagonist to help me lock a vision of them in my mind? Was it accurate enough to carry me through the rest of the tale?

4. How did they sneak in what their character wanted, a Heart's Desire?

5. By the time I had read three paragraphs, did I know what genre I was reading in? Were there strong hints as to what this story was going to be about?

6. What new tricks did I learn from analyzing this opening, that I can implement in the openings of my story?

7. How important is this lesson in nailing the opening of transitional scenes as well? What happens when you nail down details of place, characters, and time before they start interacting or speaking?

8. What do I need to do in my Q4 entry to Writers of the Future this contest year?

You have one week. Do take your time and find us a good example.

**********

I have chosen for my example, "The Dreams in the Witch House" by H. P. Lovecraft

1. Lovecraft actually gives us many setting details. He describes the room in the house our protagonist occupies, "...mouldy, unhallowed garret gable..." and the history of his room, which the witch occupied. The town, Arkham is also described, "Behind everything crouched the brooding, festering horror of the ancient town...", "At night the subtle stirring of the black city outside, the sinister scurrying of rats in the wormy partitions, and the creaking of hidden timbers in the centuried house..." These descriptions really allow the mood of the story to be set.

2. Our character, Walter Gilman is introduced as having a fever, "Whether the dreams brought on the fever or the fever brought on the dreams...", he is growing sensitive to the supernatural in his room in the witch house, and as a result is struggling with his studies. "Possibly Gilman ought not to have studied so hard." Gilman is exploring some dark topics, and it is having an effect on him, his professors urging him to lighten his load. Our main character is not doing well, and that allows us to empathize with him.

3. We can piece together that Walter Gilman is a student, based on entering college at Arkham, he is in his early 20s or thereabouts. He is from out of town, growing up in Haverhill. He is a diligent student, but has stumbled onto some knowledge that he might be better off without, "...connect his mathematics with the fantastic legends of elder magic."

4. Gilman is looking for arcane knowledge. He is trying to "...correlate with his abstract formulae on the properties of space and the linkage of dimensions known and unknown." Gilman is seeking exceptional knowledge and looking in some banned books to find it. We find out later that he chose to take the witch's room. Yet, "...he sometimes shook with fear lest the noises he heard should subside and allow him to hear other, fainter, noises which he suspected were lurking behind them." Gilman is pursuing knowledge, knowing to some extent that he will find some other things he might not want to know.

5. We know, even from the title, that we are dealing with magic. From the mentions of calculus and quantum physics we get a picture of the scientific and mathematical nature of the connections to magic we will see later in the story.

6. Lovecraft really takes the time to describe his setting, using that to set the mood of Arkham and the Witch house. You get a picture of what is happening to Gilman, what he has already learned at this point in the story, as well as a brief picture of what happened to the witch, which will be elaborated on later.

7. If you know what sort of story you are reading, some details about your characters and settings, you can understand more about the story and the writer has more ability to take leaps and build on what they established earlier.

8. I am really trying to nail my opening in Q4. I am trying to find the right balance of jumping into the story, with providing the necessary information to take my reader with me.

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Posted : August 25, 2020 10:06 am
ZeeTeeBeeZ
(@zeeteebeez)
Bronze Star Member
Posts: 148

Assignment, Phase 3

"The Paper Menagerie" by Ken Liu is my favorite short story. I didn't realize until after I read it multiple times that it won the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards (the first ever to sweep all three).

1. How did the author make a powerful vision of their world open up in my mind with a minimum of details?
- This is a modern fantasy/magical realism story, so it's set in more or less modern USA. Subtle details about a kitchen with things like a breakfast table, refrigerator, and Christmas wrapping paper ground us with things we're instantly familiar with. Also, it's clear just through a couple lines of dialogue, that the characters are of Asian descent.

2. How did they introduce an empathetic character that was unique and made me immediately connect with them?
- The story starts with the main character as a young child, in one of his earliest memories, sobbing. "I refused to be soothed, no matter what Mom and Dad tried." There's something about a crying child that stimulates something in us, which helps us connect to the character. But he goes on to say "Dad gave up and left the bedroom, but Mom took me into the kitchen and sat me down at the breakfast table." I think this sentence sets up the story to be about the relationship between mother and son. Emotionally, I'm immediately connected with these characters simply due to this loving mother trying to console her son.
This is all within three sentences.

3. What age, gender, and characteristics were given of the protagonist to help me lock a vision of them in my mind? Was it accurate enough to carry me through the rest of the tale?
- This opening scene is of the character as a young child. Young enough to be sobbing with the inability to be soothed, old enough to remember it. While there's no age given, we can assume this character might be between 3-5 years old. This story extends over a long time range, so we don't need to keep this image of him as a young child for too long. We don't get an immediate understanding of the gender of the first person narrator, but I don't think it's entirely necessary because as the story develops it is the mother that we grow to develop a connection with. We will eventually learn the narrators gender, but not in the first three paragraphs.

4. How did they sneak in what their character wanted, a Heart's Desire?
- Again this story is interesting because the narrator is not necessarily the character we end up caring the most about. And at the beginning all we know is he was sad. But, the story will eventually delve deeper into the mother/son relationship, and we know from the opening few sentences that Mom's love and desire to keep her son happy is her Heart's Desire. We get the narrator's Heart's Desire later (to be a "normal" American family, not Chinese), but Liu masterfully sneaks a seemingly secondary character's heart's desire in early, as it will come full circle and be the main focus of the story.

5. By the time I had read three paragraphs, did I know what genre I was reading in? Were there strong hints as to what this story was going to be about?
- Yes, before the end of the first page, we see an origami animal made of wrapping paper twitching it's tail, pouncing, and growling. It is stated matter of factly, and our disbelief is suspended, and magical origami animals are accepted as part of this story. As mentioned, we do have strong hints about the focus of this story (mother/son relationship), and the origami creatures will be a big part of that.

6. What new tricks did I learn from analyzing this opening, that I can implement in the openings of my story?
- This is maybe the first story that thrilled me just by the technique, once I picked up on it. It's maybe a little more complex than starting with your likable character, with a direct problem/desire, but since we get that from another character, we are emotionally invested. That's an interesting trick for stories where your main character might not be super likable. Also, I like the very visual use of magic up front, without any other explanation but the sensory description.

7. How important is this lesson in nailing the opening of transitional scenes as well? What happens when you nail down details of place, characters, and time before they start interacting or speaking?
- Transitional scenes are very important in this story, as it takes place over a long span of years. Liu does a great job of grounding us in details at the beginning of every scene, so we understand immediately that time has passed, and how much of it.

8. What do I need to do in my Q4 entry to Writers of the Future this contest year?
- It's been helpful to examine several different openings to stories recently. It's clear that there are certain ingredients that appear in openings of great stories. Things we've talked about as super secrets. It's good to see these secrets and how they're blended together over such a condensed section of the story, right up front. This year I've realized my openings aren't consistently stellar, so my q4 will certainly open with a interesting title, a likable character, in an ESTABLISHED setting, with an initial desire and problem, and a vivid speculative element.

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Posted : August 25, 2020 4:14 pm
C.A.Tedeschi
(@c-a-tedeschi)
Active Member
Posts: 23

How did the author make a powerful vision of their world open up in my mind with a minimum of details?

So... Less detail, appropriately placed is more effective if done correctly. I find this incredibly reassuring. I always felt excessive detail bogged a story down. I'm looking for / expecting the details to have real meaning. So much so, that when i start reading a story and they immediately talk about the prince and the Queen, politics, etc. etc. I automatically become skeptical. If a story must rely on a MC being nobility to lend intensity and tension to the plot, then that story becomes dribble. Those kinds of stories too often rely on excessive details to woo the reader. I believe it's best to limit detail.

And all the details should do double duty, heck, maybe even triple duty. Maybe this is not a finite truism, maybe it's just a stylistic approach, one that is subject to reader preference. But it's one that i subscribe wholeheartedly to.

As long as i'm on this rant i might as well say. I'm of a mind that the more 'meaning' you knead into the dough the sweeter the loaf will taste to the reader.. One a penny two a penny. A little bit of butter and fuh-getta-bout it!

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Posted : August 26, 2020 12:10 am
Wulf Moon
(@wulfmoon)
Platinum Plus Member Moderator
Posts: 2186

Zest wrote: “What do I need to do in my Q4 entry to Writers of the Future this contest year?
- It's been helpful to examine several different openings to stories recently. It's clear that there are certain ingredients that appear in openings of great stories. Things we've talked about as super secrets. It's good to see these secrets and how they're blended together over such a condensed section of the story, right up front. This year I've realized my openings aren't consistently stellar, so my q4 will certainly open with a interesting title, a likable character, in an ESTABLISHED setting, with an initial desire and problem, and a vivid speculative element.”

You nailed it, Zeet. THIS is why I’ve given you challenge beasties this exercise, here, at the end of time.

Go forth and conquer.

Beastmaster Moon

JOIN THE WULF PACK! http://the super secrets.com
"Super-Duper Moongirl and the Amazing Moon Dawdler" wins WRITERS OF THE FUTURE VOL. 35 & BEST SF&F STORY OF 2019. Order WotF Volume 35 HERE!
“Muzik Man" wins BEST SF&F STORY of 2020
NEW! Don't miss "Shaken, Not Stirred" & "Behind the Scenes" & "Nail Your Opening" in DreamForge Anvil Magazine!
JUST RELEASED! BEST OF DEEP MAGIC ANTHOLOGY TWO! Three Super Secrets Workshop members made it into this best of the best anthology! KD Julicher, Brittany Rainsdon, and some guy named Wulf Moon.Click HERE to get yours!

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Topic starter Posted : August 26, 2020 3:13 am
RETreasure
(@rschibler)
Silver Star Member
Posts: 725

My favorite short story ever is "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" by Hemingway. I've probably posted about this story before because I love it with all my being. The first sentence really does most of the work, and is followed quickly by dialogue that isn't terribly revealing - until you read the rest of the story - and then that dialogue speaks volumes. Then there's another sentence that fills out the setting.

Here's the first sentence: "It was now lunch time and they were all sitting under the double green fly of the dining tent pretending that nothing had happened."

1. How did the author make a powerful vision of their world open up in my mind with a minimum of details? The title sets the stage. We can assume that Francis dies in the story, but triumphs in some way. That gives us an interesting character. By the end of the first sentence we have a setting (time and place), and a problem. We know they're out in the country or bush somewhere, because of the double green fly of the dining tent. We know it's lunch time, mid-day, so whatever occurred happened in the morning. And something momentous, something amazing or terrible, happened that morning. But whatever it was, they don't want to talk about it.

2. How did they introduce an empathetic character that was unique and made me immediately connect with them? The title does all this work. Hemingway is great at pith, and his titles tend to be very revealing. This is no different. Francis Macomber has a "short happy life". Why short? Why happy, if short? It's a great question and draws us in.

3. What age, gender, and characteristics were given of the protagonist to help me lock a vision of them in my mind? Was it accurate enough to carry me through the rest of the tale? The dialogue following the first sentence is all about the three main characters ordering alcoholic drinks - giving us an age, adulthood, and expands on the setting - wherever they are in the country, they have brought alcoholic beverages and mixers. They're fancy.

4. How did they sneak in what their character wanted, a Heart's Desire? The heart's desire doesn't come until later on the first page, but we have a hint of it with that first sentence - "pretending that nothing had happened". Whatever Macomber wants, whatever happened, it didn't go the way they expected or planned.

5. By the time I had read three paragraphs, did I know what genre I was reading in? Were there strong hints as to what this story was going to be about? The dialogue doesn't give a great deal of this setting, but the next setting description grounds us: "The mess boy had started them already, lifting the bottles out of the canvas cooling bags that sweated wet in the wind that blew through the trees that shaded the tents." Mess boy? Canvas cooling bags? This is dated. Sweated wet in the wind - it's hot. (Also, god that language, isn't he just the best?) Hemingway tends to build his environment slow, but he never contradicts himself. It just expands.

6. What new tricks did I learn from analyzing this opening, that I can implement in the openings of my story? What I love best about this opening is that opening line. It's deeply in the middle of things, but raises so many questions. Hooks all the way down. Hemingway also does omniscient, and this is a great example of how that can hook a reader.

7. How important is this lesson in nailing the opening of transitional scenes as well? What happens when you nail down details of place, characters, and time before they start interacting or speaking? By giving the reader a background, the dialogue feels alive and realistic, as opposed to being a "table read" of a dry script. There's a stage, with lights, and a background. We can just settle into the story, grounded in the setting.

8. What do I need to do in my Q4 entry to Writers of the Future this contest year? Everything? But it's critical to orient the reader immediately in time and place and character so they are grounded and the show can go on.

V34: R,HM,R
V35: HM,R,R,HM
V36: R,HM,HM,SHM
V37: HM,SF,SHM,SHM
V38: F, SHM, P, P
Available for critiques - PM for availability.
www.rebeccaetreasure.com

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Posted : August 26, 2020 3:46 am
Wulf Moon
(@wulfmoon)
Platinum Plus Member Moderator
Posts: 2186

Becky wrote: “8. What do I need to do in my Q4 entry to Writers of the Future this contest year? Everything? But it's critical to orient the reader immediately in time and place and character so they are grounded and the show can go on.”

Exactly. If you don’t do all of this in the opening paragraphs, all else fails. This is a critical skill everyone in this workshop must master, and it’s your last quarter to do it in. Swap your openings this Q with your challenge beasties. Get it right! We will know if you did ... when results come in. Smile
All the beast!

Beastmaster Moon

JOIN THE WULF PACK! http://the super secrets.com
"Super-Duper Moongirl and the Amazing Moon Dawdler" wins WRITERS OF THE FUTURE VOL. 35 & BEST SF&F STORY OF 2019. Order WotF Volume 35 HERE!
“Muzik Man" wins BEST SF&F STORY of 2020
NEW! Don't miss "Shaken, Not Stirred" & "Behind the Scenes" & "Nail Your Opening" in DreamForge Anvil Magazine!
JUST RELEASED! BEST OF DEEP MAGIC ANTHOLOGY TWO! Three Super Secrets Workshop members made it into this best of the best anthology! KD Julicher, Brittany Rainsdon, and some guy named Wulf Moon.Click HERE to get yours!

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Topic starter Posted : August 26, 2020 6:51 am
CCrawford
(@ccrawford)
Bronze Star Member
Posts: 216

Phase 3 of Openings Assignment

So, of the two stories which came to mind that immediately captured my attention the first time I read them (and which I'd like to study further to understand how), neither is a short story. One is a flash ("Beholder" by Sarah Grey) and one is a novel (The Hunger Games). I went back and looked at the openings to both, and I feel they both are great examples of the elements we're studying. And I also found they share some common elements, which I had never realized before. So... I hope it's okay that I decided to discuss both (I'll try to keep my answers brief, still).

1. How did the author make a powerful vision of their world open up in my mind with a minimum of details?
Both stories are in first person, and both open with the character observing someone else.

In "Beholder," the first paragraph immediately describes the girl the MC is observing ("a waif with mottled cheeks"), plants us firmly in a coffee shop simply with the word barrista, and grounds us in sci-fi with "augmentation lenses." Second paragraph, we get details about the character's name, age, gender, and occupation through what the MC knows the girl's augmentation lenses will provide. We also find out the MC is a private person, and that she has a charity established in her daughter's memory--vital to the entire story but woven seamlessly in the intro. Third paragraph provides a little more detail on the MC's status by noting the expensive type of lenses she's wearing, and then... we see a glimpse at the Heart's Desire as the character intentionally turns on visuals to learn more about the "waif" in front of her. We have a character (Maria) in a setting (coffee shop) with a problem (concern for the barrista who seems to remind her of her deceased daughter) and a Heart's Desire (to understand more about the barrista).

In The Hunger Games, the character is waking up (potentially very cliche) but we are immediately grounded with the setting in that the character is reaching over to feel for Prim, but the side of the bed is cold. The next sentence says that Prim must have had bad dreams and climbed in bed with their mother. The next explains the likely cause of the bad dreams: the reaping. In 5 sentences, we have a setting, relationship dynamics, and a sci-fi/dystopian element, as well as clear indication that the character's sister is very important to her (an essential, driving factor for the entire book, as we soon find out). Second paragraph gives more description of her mother and Prim (the descriptions of each contribute efficiently to characterizing the mom as worn by stress and Prim as young and innocent) as well as the room (they all share a bedroom), and also drops in some hints that the MC's relationship with her mother is strained. The third paragraph introduces Prim's cat, whom Prim loves but whom the MC cannot stand--but she treats it kindly for Prim's sake and it took it in because Prim begged. We also learn that the MC hunts and cleans her kills and that food is scarce (she views the cat as another mouth to feed). By the end of this third paragraph, we still don't know our MC's name, but we know her relationship with her mother is strained, she has taken on the role of caring for her younger sister, and her Heart's Desire is clearly established: she would do anything for Prim. We have a character (unnamed teenage dystopian girl) in a setting (a small, shared bedroom in a world where food is apparently scarce) with a problem (the reaping is today) and a heart's desire (to protect her younger sister).

2. How did they introduce an empathetic character that was unique and made me immediately connect with them?
Both stories had the main character focused outside themselves, noticing someone else and showing care/concern for that other person. Both had implied depth of character and struggles communicated in very few words (in "Beholder," we know her daughter must have passed away because she started a charity in her memory, and in The Hunger Games, we know the MC hunts to provide food for her family and looks after her little sister). Both had a Heart's Desire within the first 3 paragraphs.

3. What age, gender, and characteristics were given of the protagonist to help me lock a vision of them in my mind? Was it accurate enough to carry me through the rest of the tale? In "Beholder," we find out the character's name, age, and some of what she's wearing by the second paragraph. These details quickly and efficiently establish the mother/daughter dynamic essential to the story, as well as the economic status of the character which allows her to pay to have her private data guarded--all details which contribute to the theme and plot. In The Hunger Games, we don't know exact age or description yet, but we have a lot of implied info -- the character is old enough to look after her younger sister and to hunt food for the family, but young enough to still be living under her mother's roof; the voice is mature enough that we know it's not a child speaking, so it becomes clear the character is most likely a teenager.

4. How did they sneak in what their character wanted, a Heart's Desire? In "Beholder," we see that the MC takes deep interest in the barrista girl, and chooses to look deeper into her info. This quickly establishes that the MC not only sees and notices this stressed, weary girl most have overlooked in their hurry for coffee, but also that she wants to take the time to understand her better. Combined with the comment about her charity, we get the sense that this girl reminds the MC of her daughter in some way, even if we don't yet know how. In The Hunger Games, by the end of the third paragraph, it's clear that Prim is deeply important to the MC. The desire to protect Prim is the core of the entire plot of this book, and it's all set up by paragraph three.

5. By the time I had read three paragraphs, did I know what genre I was reading in? Were there strong hints as to what this story was going to be about? "Beholder" is clearly sci-fi within the first paragraph (augmentation lenses) and then more details of the tech and the world are slipped in through paragraphs two and three. In The Hunger Games, dystopian genre is established in first paragraph with the mention of the reaping. Both include strong hints of what the story is about (helping the barrista who reminds her of her daughter, and protecting Prim, respectively).

6. What new tricks did I learn from analyzing this opening, that I can implement in the openings of my story?

For first person, having the MC focus on another character is an interesting technique--it's sort of a combo of a "save the cat" moment and also a chance to ground the reader in observations of the setting and establish character voice without having so much of the narrative in "me, my, I" mode. Also, the genre elements in both of these do double-duty (or triple-duty)--"augmentation lenses" not only set Beholder as sci-fi, they also give opportunity for the MC to describe herself through the other character's eyes. "The reaping" not only establishes sci-fi/dystopian but also gives opportunity to show the MC's relationship with her sister and hint at danger on the horizon.

I know when I first read The Hunger Games years ago, and I got to the end of the first chapter (SPOILER ALERT), when they called Prim's name my heart dropped into my stomach. By the end of chapter one, I had already identified so very deeply with Katniss that I knew what that name being called meant for her, and I immediately turned the page to find out what happened next. But in doing this exercise, I've realized that actually, all the vital information for that was provided not just in the first chapter, but in the first page. Despite being a novel, which theoretically provides more space for easing into things, Suzanne Collins dives right in to the heart of the story within those first three paragraphs. With "Beholder," which I just read for the first time recently, I was surprised at the deep emotional impact she created from a story that isn't even 1000 words long (I believe it's like 980-something). The story never feels rushed, but with so little space, it's even more important to have things established immediately and to have elements doing double- or triple-duty.

7. How important is this lesson in nailing the opening of transitional scenes as well? What happens when you nail down details of place, characters, and time before they start interacting or speaking? Everything makes more sense when you know where it's happening and who's there. Lol. If you can make these elements serve more than one function (also informing of tech/magic/genre, character desires, etc.), this efficiency keeps the prose clean and elegant and the story moving without sacrificing any of the depth or impact.

8. What do I need to do in my Q4 entry to Writers of the Future this contest year?
I need to trim my description to code in only what's necessary for the reader to fill in the rest. I need to make my details serve more than one purpose so that every word is pulling its weight and then some. And I need to bring the Heart's Desire up to the front. Like, way up. Right now, my MC's Heart's Desire takes a few paragraphs to become clear (and isn't even as clear as it needs to be). It needs to be established immediately.

v35: Q4 - HM
V36: R, R, R, R
V37: SHM, HM, HM, SHM
V38: SHM, HM, ??
Indie author of The Lex Chronicles (Legends of Arameth), and the in-progress Leyward Stones series--including my serial, Macchiatos, Faerie Princes, and Other Things That Happen at Midnight, currently available on the new Kindle Vella platform. The Vella story is also available through my Patreon, along with side stories, behind the scenes content, and in-progress drafts of other books from my Leyward Stones world.
Website: http://ccrawfordwriting.com. I also have a newsletter and a blog!
Upcoming short story publication in DreamForge Anvil, sometime in 2021!

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Posted : August 26, 2020 12:21 pm
StarReacher
(@angelakayd)
Bronze Star Member
Posts: 141

I chose “Mother of Invention” by Nnedi Okorafor, who creates intrigue in 121 words.

“It was a beautiful sunny day, and yet Anwuli knew the weather was coming for her.

She paused on the lush grass in front of the house, purposely stepping on one of the grass’ flowers. When she raised her foot, the sturdy thing sprung right back into place, letting out a puff of pollen like a small laugh. Anwuli gnashed her teeth, clutching the metal planks she carried and staring up the driveway.

Up the road, a man was huffing and puffing and sweating. He wore a clearly drenched jogging suit and white running shoes that probably wanted to melt in the Nigerian midday heat. Her neighbor, Festus Nnaemeka. The moment she and Festus made eye contact, he began walking faster.”

1. How did the author make a powerful vision of their world open up in my mind with a minimum of details? The first paragraph, a single sentence of 16 words, tells us a woman named Anwuli faces dangerous weather.

2. How did they introduce an empathetic character that was unique and made me immediately connect with them? Anwuli faces a force of nature, something that can't be controlled, which makes the reader think of similar weather calamities. To add to that, Anwuli's neighbor ignores her, implying she will face this danger on her own.

3. What age, gender, and characteristics were given of the protagonist to help me lock a vision of them in my mind? We have a woman, presumably alone, at her house in Nigeria. Was it accurate enough to carry me through the rest of the tale? Although the details are sparse, they are specific. The age is not terribly important to me at this point because the danger would not be any different based on age. Emphasis is on details related to the weather and setting: “beautiful sunny day”; “lush grass”; “a man was huffing and puffing and sweating”; “drenched jogging suit”; and “Nigerian midday heat.”

4. How did they sneak in what their character wanted, a Heart's Desire? We suspect that this is some sort of survival story and that Anwuli is on her own. We also know she is upset about the pollen released by the flower (but not why). “Anwuli gnashed her teeth . . .” We also wonder about those metal planks she is carrying.

5. By the time I had read three paragraphs, did I know what genre I was reading in? Were there strong hints as to what this story was going to be about? The title of this story hints at a possible speculative story. Knowing that, the strangeness of the flowers (springing up after she maliciously steps on them) hints that this is not a normal world. The flower releasing pollen after she steps on it is also strange. [Later, we will learn of the significance of the pollen and those metal planks – both critical to the story.]

6. What new tricks did I learn from analyzing this opening, that I can implement in the openings of my story? With specificity, setting can be a strong hook. In this case, the specificity of the setting grounds us and keeps us intrigued.

7. How important is this lesson in nailing the opening of transitional scenes as well? What happens when you nail down details of place, characters, and time before they start interacting or speaking? Specificity is essential; in this story, the weather gets the brunt of details because it is the danger itself.

8. What do I need to do in my Q4 entry to Writers of the Future this contest year? For my Q4 story, I have been focusing on specific, vivid details, using all the senses to ground the reader. Everything in the opening needs to have a purpose.

And because I was feeling ambitious, I also picked a novel: The Scythe by Neil Shusterman. The opening three paragraphs clocks in at 170 words.

“The scythe arrived late on a cold November afternoon. Citra was at the dining room table, slaving over a particularly difficult algebra problem, shuffling variables, unable to solve for X or Y, when this new and far more pernicious variable entered her life’s equation.

Guests were frequent at the Terranovas’ apartment, so when the doorbell rang, there was no sense of foreboding—no dimming of the sun, no foreshadowing of the arrival of death at their door. Perhaps the universe should have deigned to provide such warnings, but scythes were no more supernatural than tax collectors in the grand scheme of things. They showed up, did their unpleasant business, and were gone.

Her mother answered the door. Citra didn’t see the visitor, as he was, at first, hidden from her view by the door when it opened. What she saw was how her mother stood there, suddenly immobile, as if her veins had solidified within her. As if, were she tipped over, she would fall to the floor and shatter.”

1. How did the author make a powerful vision of their world open up in my mind with a minimum of details? At just 170 words, we know that either Citra, her mother, or somebody else in the household are in danger from Death. We know guests are frequent in her home and that scythes are “no more supernatural than tax collectors in the grand scheme of things. They showed up, did their unpleasant business, and were gone.” We know that the sight of the visitor at the door is a deep shock to Citra’s mother.

2. How did they introduce an empathetic character that was unique and made me immediately connect with them? Having death show up on your doorstep while you are in the middle of a homework assignment immediately grabs your attention.

3. What age, gender, and characteristics were given of the protagonist to help me lock a vision of them in my mind? We know that Citra is a teenage girl. Was it accurate enough to carry me through the rest of the tale? Even though we don’t know much about Citra beyond her being a teenager and living at home, studying algebra, her immediate predicament is enough to keep us reading.

4. How did they sneak in what their character wanted, a Heart's Desire? Like the short story by Okorafor above, survival is the most pressing concern.

5. By the time I had read three paragraphs, did I know what genre I was reading in? Were there strong hints as to what this story was going to be about? Genre is introduced in the very first sentence. “The scythe arrived late on a cold November afternoon.”

6. What new tricks did I learn from analyzing this opening, that I can implement in the openings of my story? Being blunt can be effective. The danger is in the first sentence, just as it is in the story above.

7. How important is this lesson in nailing the opening of transitional scenes as well? What happens when you nail down details of place, characters, and time before they start interacting or speaking? Specific details ground the reader. Also, both in this novel and in the above short story, having some opposing details helps to create tension. For example, Citra is in the middle of ordinary algebra homework when the danger strikes. Above the sunny skies versus the impending bad weather also add to tension.

8. What do I need to do in my Q4 entry to Writers of the Future this contest year? Make sure that I ground the reader, if only briefly, before introducing the problem.

As a side note on style, I was impressed with how Shusterman chose to describe the mother. It would have been tempting for most writers to use an adjective to show how the mother freezes in place. The technique reminded me of Steven Spielberg talking about how audiences were more frightened when they didn’t explicitly show the shark than when they did. In his case it was because he couldn’t make a very convincing looking shark and was surprised when he discovered that showing reactions of the characters was more effective in creating fear.

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Posted : August 27, 2020 5:24 am
rjklee
(@rjklee)
Bronze Star Member
Posts: 173

ASSIGNMENT for the SUPER SECRET: SET. YOUR. STAGE. Phase 3 Exercise

Analysis of the opening three paragraphs of “The Consciousness Problem” by Mary Robinette Kowal (story available to read in Lightspeed Issue 62, July 2015; originally published in Asimov’s Science Fiction, 2009)

Paragraph 1: The afternoon sun angled across the scarred wood counter despite the bamboo shade Elise had lowered. She grimaced and picked up the steel chef’s knife, trying to keep the reflection in the blade angled away so it wouldn’t trigger a hallucination.

Paragraph 2: In one of the Better Homes and Gardens her mother had sent her from the States, Elise had seen an advertisement for carbon fiber knives. They were a beautiful matte black, without reflections. She had been trying to remember to ask Myung about ordering a set for the last week, but he was never home while she was thinking about it.

Paragraph 3: There was a time before the subway accident, when she was still smart.

1. How did the author make a powerful vision of their world open up in my mind with a minimum of details? In the opening paragraph, we focus on a specific setting with time and lighting (“the afternoon sun angled across”), three objects that the protagonist Elise is handling (“the scarred wood counter,” “the bamboo shade,” and “the steel chef’s knife”), and her emotional struggle with those objects (“trying to keep the reflection angled away so it wouldn’t trigger a hallucination”).

2. How did they introduce an empathetic character that was unique and made me immediately connect with them? Elise is immediately presented as both strong and weak as she struggles to recover from a difficult mental state, which the third paragraph tells us was caused by a “subway accident”. We root for her recovery as we sympathize with how hard it must be trying to recover, especially as we’re told her husband isn’t around much and she has problems communicating with him due to memory loss after the accident. “She had been trying to remember to ask Myung about ordering a set for the last week, but he was never home when she was thinking about it.”

3. What age, gender, and characteristics were given of the protagonist to help me lock a vision of them in my mind? Was it accurate enough to carry me through the rest of the tale? First paragraph: Elise, female, trying to manage a mental breakdown. Second paragraph: living away from her mother in the States, married or at least living with a man named Myung somewhere outside of the states (if we know Asian names then we guess Korea, if we don’t, then we guess general East Asia). Elise is still in contact with her mom who sends a Better Homes and Garden magazine to her. These details are essential starting points for the rest of the problems that develop throughout the story.

4. How did they sneak in what their character wanted, a Heart's Desire? The story opens with the protagonist taking steps to avoid hallucinations. The sun is still shining across the knives “despite the bamboo shade Elise had lowered”. She “picked up the steel chef’s knife, trying to keep the reflection in the blade angled away so it wouldn’t trigger a hallucination.” In the second paragraph, the protagonist mentions the better knives she saw in the magazine which “were a beautiful matte black, without reflections”. She’d been trying to “remember to ask Myung about ordering a set for the last week, but he was never home while she was thinking about it.” That leads to the third paragraph, a single sentence in which the protagonist remembers being smarter before the accident. So, we know her main goal here is to get that set of knives, despite all the trouble she’s had getting them so far. And we know that getting those knives will lead to her deeper need of recovering from the accident by managing her mental state and functioning better in the world.

5. By the time I had read three paragraphs, did I know what genre I was reading in? Were there strong hints as to what this story was going to be about? I knew I was reading sci-fi from the title, “The Consciousness Problem,” which allows the first three paragraphs to focus on the character’s personal troubles, rather than the blatant sci-fi concerns that are more detailed later on. This was smart. We don’t get hit over the head with genre. There is mention of the protagonist not wanting to “trigger a hallucination” and that “she was still smart” before the subway accident. Those hint at sci-fi elements the author promises to develop as we read on, and they are clearly connected to the idea of consciousness that hooked us in the title. Starting with the bare minimum of genre helps the story build into a more meaningful climax.

6. What new tricks did I learn from analyzing this opening, that I can implement in the openings of my story? No need to start with intense action or drama, as long as you have a solid emotional hook. “The Consciousness Problem” starts with just enough of a solid platform to later develop into a rising emotional climax that really touches the reader. While careful to insert genre details gradually, the author lures us in with a promising hook (hallucination worries paired with the consciousness idea). As long as you have placed the elements you intend to complicate with enough intrigue to hook, then you can push the story toward more meaningful drama further on.

Objects introduced early on are linked throughout the story. They direct readers to the thematic and genre concerns, as well as the character’s needs and conflicts. The set of knives is a sort of magic sword. The protagonist wants to get rid of them at the start. The magazine titled Better Homes and Gardens holds a lot of story weight and contains the knives that could lead to her recovery.

Repeated words in the opening paragraphs appeared to be a deliberate reflection of the thematic and genre concerns: the clones, the memories, the hallucinations, repeated moments, and angles of comprehension. This was another tactic in terms of word choice and detail placement to consider as I work through story drafts.

R.J.K. Lee
WotF 2015-present: HMx6 SHMx1
My blog has monthly lists of upcoming deadlines and submission windows; let them motivate you to be more productive: https://figmentsdiehard.blogspot.com/
Give a listen to my creepy reading of my original flash fiction piece on the December 2020 episode of the Weird Christmas Podcast at the 22:10 mark: https://weirdchristmas.com/2020/12/23/weird-xmas-flash-fiction-2020-contest-results/. May Stosh persevere.

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Posted : August 27, 2020 11:04 pm
rjklee
(@rjklee)
Bronze Star Member
Posts: 173

7. How important is this lesson in nailing the opening of transitional scenes as well? What happens when you nail down details of place, characters, and time before they start interacting or speaking? Vital whenever moving into a new scene or new environment. You prepare the meaning that readers will insert into those future actions and dialogue.

R.J.K. Lee
WotF 2015-present: HMx6 SHMx1
My blog has monthly lists of upcoming deadlines and submission windows; let them motivate you to be more productive: https://figmentsdiehard.blogspot.com/
Give a listen to my creepy reading of my original flash fiction piece on the December 2020 episode of the Weird Christmas Podcast at the 22:10 mark: https://weirdchristmas.com/2020/12/23/weird-xmas-flash-fiction-2020-contest-results/. May Stosh persevere.

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Posted : August 27, 2020 11:04 pm
rjklee
(@rjklee)
Bronze Star Member
Posts: 173

8. What do I need to do in my Q4 entry to Writers of the Future this contest year?
I must nail down the details that I want to have tug at the reader's heart, insert them in the beginning and end, and hammer out the rising path of tension they follow. How will that opening point look the same or different, and how will it become more deeply touching, heartbreaking, or mind-blowing? I think my Q4 is close. I have a unique character and setting, but I need to select the best route from the start to finish. The opening characters are messing with the magic sword immediately; now to have it transform into a heartfelt surprise by the end.

Bonus story: In another story I analyzed but didn’t report in detail here was “Jump” by Cadwell Turnbull (Lightspeed Issue 100, September 2018). It’s impressive how simple the link from beginning and end is. The entire idea of the “Jump” hooks readers in the title and is the entire story engine. Check it out if you want to consider how an idea story can be more deeply moving in its simplicity. Pick an idea, make the protagonist obsess over it, give it up, then have to face it, and end. All of it circling back to the start. It also approaches genre more carefully in the opening three paragraphs like “The Consciousness Problem”.

Also, sorry about having to post it in three parts. The firewall on this forum is not very user-friendly...

R.J.K. Lee
WotF 2015-present: HMx6 SHMx1
My blog has monthly lists of upcoming deadlines and submission windows; let them motivate you to be more productive: https://figmentsdiehard.blogspot.com/
Give a listen to my creepy reading of my original flash fiction piece on the December 2020 episode of the Weird Christmas Podcast at the 22:10 mark: https://weirdchristmas.com/2020/12/23/weird-xmas-flash-fiction-2020-contest-results/. May Stosh persevere.

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Posted : August 27, 2020 11:05 pm
Henckel
(@henckel)
Silver Member
Posts: 408

I’ve chosen “Weep no more for the Willows” by Wulf Moon. For those of you who haven’t read this, it spectacular! From the first paragraph, you are pull straight into the story.

1. How did the author make a powerful vision of their world open up in my mind with a minimum of details?

This story opens with a remarkable explosion of detail, description, narrative, and context. What makes this different from an “info dump” is that every detail is animated and immediate. Nothing is static. The first paragraph is 107 words, followed by two shorter paragraphs. This is what we learn.
Character: Captain Don Capriccio Delgado. Fists on hips. Coppery hair whipping in wind. Uses contracts (other crew have olive skin). MC with two other people: Salvatore and Sanchez (Sanchez is dipping ladle into scuttlebucket.
Setting: Blue skies over the sea. Spanish galleon groans under heavy load of bullion. Caribbean.
Conflict: Attention focused on the sea. Experiences sailors observing a phenomenon at sea they can’t explain.
Hooks are: setting and the unexplained phenomenon. This tells readers the story will be about the phenomenon.

2. How did they introduce an empathetic character that was unique and made me immediately connect with them?

Wulf paints a picture of a skilled and competent ship’s captain whose encounters something that exceeds his skill. MC is actively seeking advice of two others. This could be read as either MC feeling vulnerable (or) MC is wise enough to consult others when in over his head. Either technique will gain reader sympathy.

3. What age, gender, and characteristics were given of the protagonist to help me lock a vision of them in my mind? Was it accurate enough to carry me through the rest of the tale?

MC is male. A Ship’s captain. His stance of “fists on hips” gives him an air of a man used to authority. His shoulder length red hair is a great visual to anchor readers.

4. How did they sneak in what their character wanted, a Heart's Desire?

Speaking solely about the first three paragraphs, MC wants an explanation re the peculiar phenomenon he’s witnessing. (It’s a touch bit later when we dive deeper in the character that we see reveal the deeper desire that lies beneath the surface.)

5. By the time I had read three paragraphs, did I know what genre I was reading in? Were there strong hints as to what this story was going to be about? "

Yes. There was no mistaking this.

6. What new tricks did I learn from analyzing this opening that I can implement in the openings of my story?

Attaching kinetic motion to setting details so it becomes immediate scene.
…Having re read this opening many times, I believe the key to what makes it work is the fact that all the details flow perfectly. Let’s face it, any of us can deliver character, setting, and conflict with a hook in a dry boring bullet pointed list. The skill here is that Wulf delivers all this in an engaging way that keeps the story flowing—does not feel as if it’s bogged down. Love it!

7. How important is this lesson in nailing the opening of transitional scenes as well? What happens when you nail down details of place, characters, and time before they start interacting or speaking?

There are many ways to successfully open a scene. But, I consider this to be one of the most powerful and effective method. It’s descriptive, engaging, and masterfully done. It is a prime example of what I’m trying to achieve in my own writing.

8. What do I need to do in my Q4 entry to Writers of the Future this contest year?

Ensure the necessary details are present that allows the story to start. Present these details in such a way that allows the story to flow. Do not compromise the flow with bulky description. Set the scene and sucker punch the reader with the right hook.

(2014) V31 Q1 – R
(2018) V35 Q3 – HM
(2019) V36 Q3 – HM
(2019) V36 Q4 – SHM
(2020) V37 Q1 – R
(2020) V37 Q2 – HM
(2020) V37 Q3 – SHM
(2020) V37 Q4 – Finalist
(2021) V38 Q1 – Semi-finalist
(2021) V38 Q2 – SHM
(2021) V38 Q3 – tba

Other stats
(2020) - Dream Foundry - Shortlisted
(2021) - Mike Resnick Memorial Award - Finalist

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Posted : August 30, 2020 10:11 pm
SwiftPotato
(@swiftpotato)
Silver Star Member
Posts: 551

Good morning, beasties! Today's Monday prompt is: STOLEN LULLABIES.

R, 3rd place Q4 v36!!!
Stories in Apocalyptic, Cossmass Infinities, and Podcastle

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Posted : August 31, 2020 12:10 am
storysinger
(@storysinger)
Gold Member
Posts: 848

The story I chose is one I never thought would exist. Towers of Midnight. A Wheel of Time novel.
Anyone familiar with the series knows Robert Jordan passed away before finishing his masterpiece, leaving his fans devastated.
Brandon Sanderson was enlisted by Jordan's wife to bring the story to it's conclusion. He performed a masterful job.

1. How did the author make a powerful vision of their world open up in my mind with a minimum of details?
The story opens with action as the protagonist is riding to his death. The beat of hooves on the trail provide a familiar rhythm. Rock formations in the distance describe a sickness. A blight is on the land.

2. How did they introduce an empathetic character that was unique and made me immediately connect with them?
In the second paragraph we find out his wife has played a trick on him, narrowly keeping a promise to deliver him to the borderlands. His journey on this road skirting the Borderlands has loomed before him for twenty years. We learn that he has returned to fulfil his destiny, to uphold the name of his fathers. The hadori on his head implies royalty.

3. What age, gender, and characteristics were given of the protagonist to help me lock a vision of them in my mind? Was it accurate enough to carry me through the rest of the tale?
He has been following a woman and her quest for twenty years so we know he is not a young man. He is riding toward evil so we are certain he is a warrior and able to handle the sword at his hip. He is returning to his homeland to honor his ancestors.

4. How did they sneak in what their character wanted, a Heart's Desire?
By letting the reader know how long the quest had been put aside we come to realize his heart's desire. to return to his home and confront the evil growing in the Badlands.

5. By the time I had read three paragraphs, did I know what genre I was reading in? Were there strong hints as to what this story was going to be about?
This story takes more than three paragraphs to let us know it is similar to a Tolkien novel. with Orcs and other creatures. The tension is brought about by the deceit of his wife and the constant description of the MC's surroundings.

6. What new tricks did I learn from analyzing this opening, that I can implement in the openings of my story?
Starting my story in a point of action will engage the reader from the start. Provide background details and descriptions that paint a picture of what is happening in the moment. Name the character at once, and give an idea of his/her heart's desire.

7. How important is this lesson in nailing the opening of transitional scenes as well? What happens when you nail down details of place, characters, and time before they start interacting or speaking?
Everything must be presented with an economy of words. Setting the scenes as they happen will hook the reader into your presentation and make them want to turn the page for the duration of the story.

8. What do I need to do in my Q4 entry to Writers of the Future this contest year?
I must adhere to the guidelines presented in the Super Secrets. If I do this I will have a better chance than most to succeed. That is my Heart's Desire.

Today's science fiction is tomorrow's reality-D.R.Sweeney
HM-V32/Q3
HM-V36/Q4
HM-V38/Q1

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Posted : August 31, 2020 9:19 am
Wulf Moon
(@wulfmoon)
Platinum Plus Member Moderator
Posts: 2186

So ends Phase 3 of the exercise for the Super Secret: SET. YOUR. STAGE.

In this exercise, we went to our favorite short story or novel openings outside of Writers of the Future volumes. The choices were across the board, but it should have been obvious that the best stories ground you in vivid setting, a unique character, with a compelling heart's desire, a genre cue, and even a crushing problem, all in the opening paragraphs! This is not by chance. Pro authors know that locking readers into the critical elements of a story from the very beginning will keep them from getting lost or confused as the journey continues. These writers start their stories with a marker as effective as all carefully posted trail maps: YOU ARE HERE. The reader can quickly orient themselves, lock down where they are at, and where this trail map intends to go. It doesn't mark every tree, rock, and bird they might see on the path (thank goodness!), but it does give clear direction and some foreshadowing as to what lies ahead.

New writers almost always fail at this. Sometimes they intentionally withhold information, thinking it clever to go SURPRISE! midway in the story. It's not clever to withhold vital information a reader needs to understand the story you are telling. It's foolish. But more often than not, it's simply a matter of writers not understanding how much critical data is necessary in the opening of a story. Aspiring writers think they have tens of pages to get these critical elements worked in. They do not. We are writing short stories here, hopefully award-winning short stories, not novels. And as you have discovered, even in novels, most authors don't mess around. They ground you immediately in critical elements to their tale, AND THEN they take you on their roller coaster thrill ride. But first, you need to know where to jump on.

To all reading this, if you don't get an HM in a quarter, I can almost guarantee this is the number one reason. You have two pages, or if your writing style is superlative (your CRAFT), you might get three pages at most to effectively set your stage. Count on two to lock in your critical story elements with grace and finesse. HOWEVER, as you can see, the best do it inside of three paragraphs. Their first page lays out everything you need to know, and they do it with such skill, you don't even know they are doing it ... until you examine it with a magnifying glass, like we just did.

Master your openings. SET. YOUR. STAGE. And when you start a new scene, make sure you ground your reader again in time, place, and who is in the location before heads start talking and bodies start walking. I can't stress this enough. SET. YOUR. STAGE. Got it? Prove it. Come back with a certificate this Q4. Smile

A few final notes. Retro, I love it that you chose Bradbury. His prose was poetry. No one wrote prose better than Bradbury--he hooked you with the beauty of his words, the cadence of his sentence structure, the texture of his worlds. He stood alone in the realm of pulp fiction writers of his time. He actually created Art, while many others were merely churning formulaic stories to pay the rent. As a side note, see how well he did dialogue in your sample. Perfect Ping-Pong dialogue, as I call it. Few understood how to write like that in his time period. And it's one of the many reasons he's considered a master. We would all do well to make a serious study of Ray Bradbury's short stories.

Henckel, thank you for the nice words about my story "Weep No More For the Willow" in Deep Magic, Fall 2019. Yeah, it's a singular willow, not plural, but that's not your fault. Their formatting program made some mistakes, and that first version had a terrible glitch with all the italicized names--there were quite a few considering I sprinkled in Spanish for realism. They apologized and corrected the errors when I wrote to them. You should be able to update the story to get the corrected version, which is the one now on Amazon. Sorry about that. As for this story, I've mentioned it was a semifinalist in the contest. Dave said on the level of world building alone, it was perhaps the strongest of all the other winners. He said he so wanted to make it a winner, but I needed to "kill my darlings." I did, and the story got published, just as he said he believed it would. Dave loved my story. That entire opening chapter is worth studying, as it exemplifies much of what I'm talking about in this Super Secret. It is also the opening of my historical fantasy novel that the Audible Originals VP has requested. Here's how to read it: https://www.amazon.com/Deep-Magic-Fall- ... B07V43XLJR

Would you like to see the book I chose as an example of a powerful opening? Join the Wulf Pack! I've just started my Wulf Pack Club, and this will be the topic of my first newsletter. I'll wait a day for you to sign up so you don't miss it. HINT: more and more Super Secrets are going to be revealed privately to those in the club. Click the link, wait 20 seconds, and the membership will pop up. See you there! http://www.driftweave.com

ASSIGNMENT SET. YOUR. STAGE. EXERCISE: PHASE 4.

Look back over the many writing prompts we've provided each week on Mondays (maybe our Keeper of Records could post the past twenty or so, if she has time. ALL HAIL THE KEEPER OF RECORDS!). Pick one, and armed with your new knowledge, take a practice run on starting a story. SET. YOUR. STAGE. in your opening, within three paragraphs. Review all the necessary details that need to be there. Weave them in seamlessly, just like you've seen pro authors do in our examples. You don't have to share these. I am hoping some of you will write completely fresh stories, based on these openings. You still have a month to write a fresh story that could be even better than the one you intended to submit! Go for it!

THIS IS THE LAST QUARTER OF THE CONTEST YEAR! ONE FINAL MONTH TO CREATE YOUR MASTERPIECE! USE THE TIME TO DO IT!

All the beast!

Beastmaster Moon

JOIN THE WULF PACK! http://the super secrets.com
"Super-Duper Moongirl and the Amazing Moon Dawdler" wins WRITERS OF THE FUTURE VOL. 35 & BEST SF&F STORY OF 2019. Order WotF Volume 35 HERE!
“Muzik Man" wins BEST SF&F STORY of 2020
NEW! Don't miss "Shaken, Not Stirred" & "Behind the Scenes" & "Nail Your Opening" in DreamForge Anvil Magazine!
JUST RELEASED! BEST OF DEEP MAGIC ANTHOLOGY TWO! Three Super Secrets Workshop members made it into this best of the best anthology! KD Julicher, Brittany Rainsdon, and some guy named Wulf Moon.Click HERE to get yours!

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Topic starter Posted : September 1, 2020 9:21 am
Retropianoplayer
(@retropianoplayer)
Bronze Star Member
Posts: 224

Thank you, Wulf.

I finally Googled a science-fiction writer I read as a young boy in the bookshelf full of science-fiction pulp magazines of the nineteen forties and fifties.

I was correct. His nom de plume was Murray Leinster; his real name was William Fitzgerald Jenkins. A fabulous master of the science fiction short story, this author won (not just nominated) BOTH the Retro Hugo Award and the Hugo Award for Best Novelette. He wrote more than 1,500 short stories and 14 movie scripts. The one I remember was 'Sidewise In Time.' He was born in 1896.

I'm betting he knew L. Ron Hubbard, who might have written in the pulps during the thirties and forties. But I can't state this with one hundred percent certainty as I wasn't alive then.

And I still think Forbidden Planet (the movie) was way ahead of its time.

Best,

Retro wotf022

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Posted : September 1, 2020 11:52 am
SwiftPotato
(@swiftpotato)
Silver Star Member
Posts: 551

Per Moon's request, the last twenty Monday prompts (in no particular order):

STOLEN LULLABIES
SHIPWRECKED, BUT NOT ALONE...
HESITANT CORROSION
PRECOGNITION
MOUNTAINEER AT THE END OF THE WORLD
WANDERING PRISON
FIRST DAY WITHOUT STARS
INSANITY OF VANITY
BABY DIES ALONE
DROWNING, WITHOUT WATER
IRON FISTED RULE
MOLTING HEART
FORGIVE AND FORGET
BURIED ALIVE
LOCKED IN A BOX
DECOMMISSIONED
CONFESSION'S PRICE
THE ILL-FATED EXPERIMENT
CANNIBAL MACHINATIONS
EMOTIONAL CLOCKWORK

R, 3rd place Q4 v36!!!
Stories in Apocalyptic, Cossmass Infinities, and Podcastle

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Posted : September 2, 2020 3:50 am
Retropianoplayer
(@retropianoplayer)
Bronze Star Member
Posts: 224

Proud to be a member of the Wulf Pack Club. Looking forward to more of these fabulous SUPER SECRETS which aren't posted in the thread.

One of Life's Golden Rules in H. Jackson Browne's COMPLETE BOOK OF LIFE INSTRUCTIONS is: Be quick to take advantage of an advantage.

The Wulf Pack Club is an advantage. If we're the squad sent to find the elusive Private James Francis Ryan, (Subtext a WOTF trophy), we need "Captain Miller."

Wulf Moon is our "Captain Miller."

Best,

Retropianoplayer

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Posted : September 2, 2020 5:11 am
SwiftPotato
(@swiftpotato)
Silver Star Member
Posts: 551

Checking in: sent my second fresh story for the quarter out to F&SF. Time to party! And by party I mean write another story.

R, 3rd place Q4 v36!!!
Stories in Apocalyptic, Cossmass Infinities, and Podcastle

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Posted : September 3, 2020 1:23 am
SwiftPotato
(@swiftpotato)
Silver Star Member
Posts: 551

Results of check-in already here (I'm sharing this one cause I think it's important for y'all to see): got a really, really good personal from Charlie on this one. He gave me a big long thing with paragraphs, character names, examples, and page numbers. Which is TERRIFYING but also SO COOL. His critique: he appreciated that I got into the character, world, and action quickly but it felt a little too rushed for him, and he would have preferred to be more grounded earlier. He also said that he thought my ending summed up the theme and character arc nicely, but that that, too, was a little too rushed and that he wants more time for the reader to feel what they feel instead of having it fed to them. Basically my denouement wasn't long enough for him and it did too much spoon feeding. Caveat: that one, he said, is a personal preference. But it is something we've been given a super secret on, and so I think it's important to see this reinforced by someone like Charlie. It's IMPORTANT, y'all. Nail your opening. Ground your reader FAST. Nail your denouement. And write more stuff!

R, 3rd place Q4 v36!!!
Stories in Apocalyptic, Cossmass Infinities, and Podcastle

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Posted : September 3, 2020 2:23 pm
rjklee
(@rjklee)
Bronze Star Member
Posts: 173

Sounds like you're getting closer and closer to getting accepted at F&SF. Thanks for sharing the comments from Charlie! That's some good info on the denouement and being careful not spell things out too blatantly.

R.J.K. Lee
WotF 2015-present: HMx6 SHMx1
My blog has monthly lists of upcoming deadlines and submission windows; let them motivate you to be more productive: https://figmentsdiehard.blogspot.com/
Give a listen to my creepy reading of my original flash fiction piece on the December 2020 episode of the Weird Christmas Podcast at the 22:10 mark: https://weirdchristmas.com/2020/12/23/weird-xmas-flash-fiction-2020-contest-results/. May Stosh persevere.

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Posted : September 3, 2020 4:12 pm
rjklee
(@rjklee)
Bronze Star Member
Posts: 173

I realized I never reported in my writing progress since the end of June.

In July, I completed two fresh short stories (3400-word and 2600-word) and two fresh flash stories. All four were submitted to top tier publications.

In August, I completed two fresh short stories (2700-word and 2100-word) and a fresh flash story. All three were submitted to top tier publications.

You'll note that only one of the four short stories were above 3000, so I am still aiming to complete at least one fresh story this month that will likely be 7000 words. In general though, I've been pushing myself to write shorter stories in the 2000-5000 word range as I assume those are generally easier to sell. Trying to keep my world-building in smaller scale stories is a challenge! I will also aim to complete another two fresh flash stories.

R.J.K. Lee
WotF 2015-present: HMx6 SHMx1
My blog has monthly lists of upcoming deadlines and submission windows; let them motivate you to be more productive: https://figmentsdiehard.blogspot.com/
Give a listen to my creepy reading of my original flash fiction piece on the December 2020 episode of the Weird Christmas Podcast at the 22:10 mark: https://weirdchristmas.com/2020/12/23/weird-xmas-flash-fiction-2020-contest-results/. May Stosh persevere.

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Posted : September 3, 2020 4:28 pm
SwiftPotato
(@swiftpotato)
Silver Star Member
Posts: 551

Nice job on all the prolific writing! Keep on pushing! Yes, worldbuilding in shorter form, esp. under 4k, is hard to do without as-you-know-Bobs. But it's doable! Simpler worlds can help with this (ex: the world but with this new technology/this magical change), and smaller bites of the world (ex: a deep dive into an aspect of the world that explains more than just that aspect) can also help, in my experience.

R, 3rd place Q4 v36!!!
Stories in Apocalyptic, Cossmass Infinities, and Podcastle

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Posted : September 4, 2020 12:17 am
ZeeTeeBeeZ
(@zeeteebeez)
Bronze Star Member
Posts: 148

Swift, congrats on another great personal! I’m sure it will come soon.

Your success is inspiring. Keep up the hard work!

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Posted : September 5, 2020 1:24 am
SwiftPotato
(@swiftpotato)
Silver Star Member
Posts: 551

Thanks, zeet! Smile

R, 3rd place Q4 v36!!!
Stories in Apocalyptic, Cossmass Infinities, and Podcastle

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Posted : September 5, 2020 3:47 am
Wulf Moon
(@wulfmoon)
Platinum Plus Member Moderator
Posts: 2186

Results of check-in already here (I'm sharing this one cause I think it's important for y'all to see): got a really, really good personal from Charlie on this one. He gave me a big long thing with paragraphs, character names, examples, and page numbers. Which is TERRIFYING but also SO COOL. His critique: he appreciated that I got into the character, world, and action quickly but it felt a little too rushed for him, and he would have preferred to be more grounded earlier. He also said that he thought my ending summed up the theme and character arc nicely, but that that, too, was a little too rushed and that he wants more time for the reader to feel what they feel instead of having it fed to them. Basically my denouement wasn't long enough for him and it did too much spoon feeding. Caveat: that one, he said, is a personal preference. But it is something we've been given a super secret on, and so I think it's important to see this reinforced by someone like Charlie. It's IMPORTANT, y'all. Nail your opening. Ground your reader FAST. Nail your denouement. And write more stuff!

Thanks for the nice words, Retro. And thanks for joining the Wulf Pack, Tedeschi! Honestly, I've never produced a fan club mail system before, so I'm struggling with the tech just like you. Smile Should get your first official Wulf Pack Newsletter next week! I have seven editing jobs on the books right now, and I'm trying to work this in between them. Plus my own writing deadlines!

Swift, thank you for sharing this response from Charlie at F&SF. I give detailed rejections/suggestions like that at Future-SF (as you know :), but that's the best I've seen from someone like Charlie that handles over a thousand responses every quarter. You are to be commended, not only for getting it, but for taking my advice as to how to get it. Everybody wants the big sale, but few are willing to do the work to make it happen. Bravo! But I must admit, I've never known you to shy away from doing what needs to be done to succeed. Smile
Challenge Beasties, Leah shared this letter from Charlie with me when she got it. I have never seen its like, and it shows how much Leah has impressed Charlie, because he DOES NOT have to do that, and has little time to do so when he has three hundred plus stacked up to read at any given moment at F&SF. So it's worth examining for a moment, since Leah was so kind to give us the summary.

Truth is, we've been working on the very point Charlie cites in my latest Super Secret: SET. YOUR. STAGE. I suspect Leah wrote this story before we began working on this point, but regardless, it is vital to NAIL. YOUR. OPENING. You do this by setting your stage properly. I know there is huge pressure to begin a story in medias res. Everyone want's their info fast and furious, and many writing teachers parrot this saying: "You have to begin your story in the middle of action!" Wrong. You have to begin your story as close to the inciting incident/catalyst as you can, but first you must establish a unique character, in a vivid setting, with a Heart's Desire, AND THEN the drama of the inciting incident will actually mean something to the reader. Charlie wanted to feel for the protagonist, the world, and the dilemma he/she was facing, but the story jumped into the drama before he could get emotionally involved. This is what he means when he stated he wished to be "more grounded earlier." Do you see why I said this latest Super Secret is so important, is missed by so many aspiring writers, and needs to be perfected by every one of us? Do you see why I had you study examples, and then go to your favorites to study how they grounded you in the first three paragraphs, not even the first two pages? I am certain you now understand why we've spent a month on this subject, and are still working on it. This is Q4. Last call for the year. You must nail this Super Secret if you hope to win, and if you hope to sell to the likes of Charlie. Of course, Leah has nailed this Secret before, and she'll nail it again. I am certain she is using Charlie's critique to do so, even as I speak. : )

Charlie makes another great point on conclusions, your denouement. The more complex the story, the longer your denouement has to be. Novels tend to have long denouements, because there are loose ends that need to be tied up, and the ending is the perfect bow you put on the wrapped up package. Just as you must nail your openings, you must nail your endings. I did a Super Secret on them, An Ending Goes Big Baddah Boom. But I should probably do another, in view of this. An ending encapsulates the entire story, reveals why the protagonist went on this journey, and verifies and validates that the mission was a success or failure. Life goes on, and the reader must feel that life goes on, and must have enough space to sigh and deal with their feelings and thoughts after the dramatic climax in most endings. They must be poignant and powerful, while allowing the reader to connect the dots for themselves.

I do enjoy endings that mushroom out in your mind and not on the page. "Moongirl" is an example of this, and it was right for that particular story. But most stories need an ending to give the readers time to analyze and weigh out whether they got what they were promised, whether the protagonist they were rooting for learned something in their character arc that made them grow, and most importantly, whether the readers themselves felt edified by the ending, perhaps even morally and spiritually uplifted. Those are the most powerful endings of all. Make them feel the latter, and you've really nailed your ending.

If you want to see an example of giving the reader time to deal with their emotions, and how much time they need, go read "Weep No More for the Willow," in Deep Magic, Fall 2019. After Capricho makes "a tough choice," which is what every good climax is all about, there is a denouement. Not too long, not too short. Jusssst right. Some of you read "Seventh Heaven" in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds 2, published by Pocket Books. That was a Seven of Nine story, a novelette, and it was complex, so it needed more space to tie the loose ends up while allowing the reader to sift through their own feelings about Seven's decision. But watch for that coup de grace last line, that leaves you contemplating what's going on in Seven of Nine's mind. That's how you nail an ending, and it is well worth studying. Mastering this Secret will also determine whether you win or lose. You cannot win by ending on a weak note. Let me repeat that, because I've seen everyone's work now. You cannot win by ending on a weak note. Your ending must have potency and power, and yet be subtle enough your readers don't get banged over the head with your theme. You leave them to connect the last dot, by funneling them down to it. It is an essential skill to master, one of the most important, because your last line is just like in a courtroom, where you, the defending attorney will say "I rest my case," and then will leave it to your reader to judge it. Make your last line count!

I hope that helps. Well done, Leah! You will succeed in your quest!

All the beast,

Beastmaster Moon

P.S.: I was told five more spots just sold in my upcoming Fyrecon Master Classes. They are going to sell out again, so if anyone, including lurkers :), want to get in on the distillation of my Super Secrets (including those Hidden Secrets), now's the time! We had to turn people away last time. Don't miss out! Two classes to choose from! Here's the info to register, and any master class registration INCLUDES the Fyrecon Online Convention, a $50 value! See you there! https://www.fyrecon.com/master-classes/ ... -workshop/

JOIN THE WULF PACK! http://the super secrets.com
"Super-Duper Moongirl and the Amazing Moon Dawdler" wins WRITERS OF THE FUTURE VOL. 35 & BEST SF&F STORY OF 2019. Order WotF Volume 35 HERE!
“Muzik Man" wins BEST SF&F STORY of 2020
NEW! Don't miss "Shaken, Not Stirred" & "Behind the Scenes" & "Nail Your Opening" in DreamForge Anvil Magazine!
JUST RELEASED! BEST OF DEEP MAGIC ANTHOLOGY TWO! Three Super Secrets Workshop members made it into this best of the best anthology! KD Julicher, Brittany Rainsdon, and some guy named Wulf Moon.Click HERE to get yours!

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Topic starter Posted : September 5, 2020 7:51 am
SwiftPotato
(@swiftpotato)
Silver Star Member
Posts: 551

Thanks for the analysis, Moon! And yes, you're spot on, this was a story I wrote a while back and hadn't submitted because I knew it wasn't there but didn't have the tools to fix it yet. Tuned it up at the end of August and finally sent it out cause I was having idea struggles. Also am definitely working very deliberately on the opening to my current story to make sure the world and the characters are clear and established through actions they're taking that will cause the story to happen rather than while the story is already happening.

But seriously. Y'all ever seen someone dance because they got a rejection? Crazy. Still can't quite believe that email is real. I've been writing a list of all the advice I've gotten from Charlie in his rejections under the title "Advice to Never Get Again" so that I make sure he doesn't have to tell me the same thing twice. I assume that this means someday he'll run out of things he can say are wrong! Smile

R, 3rd place Q4 v36!!!
Stories in Apocalyptic, Cossmass Infinities, and Podcastle

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Posted : September 5, 2020 10:28 am
Corbin.Maxwell
(@corbin-maxwell)
Bronze Star Member
Posts: 232

Results of check-in already here (I'm sharing this one cause I think it's important for y'all to see): got a really, really good personal from Charlie on this one. He gave me a big long thing with paragraphs, character names, examples, and page numbers. Which is TERRIFYING but also SO COOL. His critique: he appreciated that I got into the character, world, and action quickly but it felt a little too rushed for him, and he would have preferred to be more grounded earlier. He also said that he thought my ending summed up the theme and character arc nicely, but that that, too, was a little too rushed and that he wants more time for the reader to feel what they feel instead of having it fed to them. Basically my denouement wasn't long enough for him and it did too much spoon feeding. Caveat: that one, he said, is a personal preference. But it is something we've been given a super secret on, and so I think it's important to see this reinforced

It's really nice to hear compliments from Charlie. And if no compliment, at least a few words on why the story didn't work for him. I hope you nail it next time with F&SF Magazine.

I ain't cut out to be no Jesse James.

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Posted : September 5, 2020 7:51 pm
Wulf Moon
(@wulfmoon)
Platinum Plus Member Moderator
Posts: 2186

No brave soul is going to post their Phase 4 to this assignment? You have one more day if you’d like to share, but please be sure to do the assignment, regardless. We are in the culmination of one year of challenges, and assignments have been personally designed to help you sharpen your edge, based on what I’ve seen editing your manuscripts. Plus, next week we start Phase 5 on Set. Your. Stage. See how important this is?

Beastmaster Moon

JOIN THE WULF PACK! http://the super secrets.com
"Super-Duper Moongirl and the Amazing Moon Dawdler" wins WRITERS OF THE FUTURE VOL. 35 & BEST SF&F STORY OF 2019. Order WotF Volume 35 HERE!
“Muzik Man" wins BEST SF&F STORY of 2020
NEW! Don't miss "Shaken, Not Stirred" & "Behind the Scenes" & "Nail Your Opening" in DreamForge Anvil Magazine!
JUST RELEASED! BEST OF DEEP MAGIC ANTHOLOGY TWO! Three Super Secrets Workshop members made it into this best of the best anthology! KD Julicher, Brittany Rainsdon, and some guy named Wulf Moon.Click HERE to get yours!

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Topic starter Posted : September 6, 2020 4:19 am
RETreasure
(@rschibler)
Silver Star Member
Posts: 725

I'm in for Q4. I worked through multiple crits on this one, deepest thanks to everyone who helped me polish up my story! Special thanks to Wulf for taking time out of his busy schedule to take a look. I'm proud of the story I submitted. Best of luck to everyone getting theirs in over the next three weeks! I'm available for crits if needed.

V34: R,HM,R
V35: HM,R,R,HM
V36: R,HM,HM,SHM
V37: HM,SF,SHM,SHM
V38: F, SHM, P, P
Available for critiques - PM for availability.
www.rebeccaetreasure.com

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Posted : September 6, 2020 6:14 am
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